For the UK antiques and art fairs that remain after a flurry of closures, the future could be bright.
Against a backdrop of troubling news about the scene, the performance of several popular events last month proved that there is still plenty of life in trade outings.
Some of the best reports launching the new year came from the opening day of the Decorative Antiques and Textiles Fair, which ran in Battersea from January 24-29.
“I had my best Battersea ever when it returned after lockdown,” Nick Jones, an exhibitor since the early 2000s, told ATG. “Every fair after that has been better each time.”
He reported a “record-breaking” first day including the sale of a pair of sofas at £13,500 (pictured above).
Others chalked up five-figure sales in the early days too such as Gallery KIY, Foster & Gane, Gallery BR, Timothy Langston and Christopher Butterworth, who dubbed the opening “probably the best day I have had at a fair ever”.
Founded in 1985, Battersea boasts a wide base of loyal supporters such as Jones, but recently its position has become even more enviable. It is the only vetted London fair with more than one annual staging (it hosts three) and one of few to offer a platform for traditional antiques.
Dealers have lost a raft of events over the last few years, with a burst of cancellations since last October culminating in the scrapping of the 2023 editions of Masterpiece London and Art and Antiques Fair Olympia, London’s two summer fairs, announced in January.
Of the losses, Masterpiece (founded in 2010) was the most high-profile and unexpected. However, for a chunk of the fair-going trade, the loss of Art and Antiques for Everyone (AAfE), the Birmingham NEC fair launched in 1985, was more of a wrench.
With major vetted provincial fairs now in shorter supply, there is an increasing focus on events such as Pavilions of Harrogate Decorative, Antiques & Art Fair (January 27-29) run by Cooper Events.
“Our first fair of the year in Harrogate has proved to be our most successful in 12 years at the venue,” organiser Sue Ede said. “The fair is now the premier event of its kind in the north of England, and we enjoyed a record attendance and record number of sales. Exhibitors reported seeing many of their Midlands clients who came for the first time – perhaps because there are no antiques fairs at the NEC this year.
“I’ve also taken enquiries from dealers across the country who are looking to exhibit at our other events, notably Buxton which, of course, is the closest to the NEC. We’re looking forward to a busy year.”
Ede’s next event, The Chester Decorative, Antiques & Art Fair, hosts several newcomers including Dovecote Antiques, which previously stood exclusively at the NEC.
Remaining fairs will be jumping at the chance to entice exhibitors and fill gaps in the calendar to capture the fair-going public.
Among these is The Open Art Fair, which – after a tumultuous inaugural edition that ran into the first lockdown – is now the only general antiques fair to run in London during the spring. Though it has not yet announced its full exhibitor list, it is likely to soak up some that had planned to book Olympia, Chelsea, or one of the other recent cancellations.
Meanwhile, some could look to alternative dealer events such as London Art Week (LAW) or Asian Art in London (AAL), two gallery-based programmes. LAW has already announced that H Blairman & Sons, previously a stalwart Masterpiece exhibitor, has signed on for the first time this year.
Last month brought other positive steps. The Mayfair Art & Antiques Fair, organised by The Antiques Dealers Fair Limited, came back for its first run since before lockdown (see review in ATG No 2578).
London Art Fair (LAF, January 18- 22) returned to its traditional slot in the calendar, after a spike in Covid cases caused a hurried reorganisation last winter.
Fair director Sarah Monk said she was “thrilled” to have the fair back in January, “launching the international art calendar” with a wide selection of Modern and Contemporary exhibitors that reported five- and six-figure sales.
Meanwhile The Winter Show in New York City (January 20-29) and the BRAFA Art Fair in Brussels (January 28-February 5) also returned to January, both hosting their share of UK exhibitors. Last year the US event was moved to the spring, like LAF, while BRAFA, as with TEFAF Maastricht, shifted to the summer, making that a cluttered period for international buyers.
Also overseas, Master Drawings New York (January 20-28) reported positive results for dealers (see below).
Could any of the recently shuttered events have a second life?
It is hard to imagine. The challenges facing Masterpiece – primarily rising costs and red tape from Brexit – are unlikely to go away over time. The Chelsea Antiques Fairs’ organiser 2Covet has gone into liquidation. Art & Antiques Olympia has scrapped not just the antique fair, but also the Spirit of Summer Fair which ran alongside it. And by the time it was cancelled, AAfE had shrunk from its high point of more than 500 exhibitors to around 120.
Some fairs do return. LAPADA announced that it had scrapped its Berkeley Square event before bringing it back at a higher price point earlier this year.
2Covet revived The Chelsea Antiques Fair after buying it from Penman Fairs. Even Masterpiece was the spiritual successor to the Grosvenor House Art & Antiques Fair.
More likely, however, is that the loss of these recent events will spark new ones. There is a clear appetite among traders to keep standing at fairs. Jonathan Carter of Winchester clock and watch specialist Carter Marsh, which formerly stood exclusively at Masterpiece, said: “We would like to be in London over the summer as many of our customers prefer to see us there.” The firm had used the fair as a platform to stage major exhibitions in the past.
“Dealers definitely feel a fair is needed,” Lewis Smith of Koopman Rare Art said, speaking for former Masterpiece exhibitors. “Many of them don’t have galleries in London. No doubt there will be concerted effort to create something. Whether it is this year or next I don’t know.”
But anyone wishing to launch a new event or revive an old one is likely to move cautiously.
Ceramics specialist Andrew Muir took to Instagram to lament the loss of AAfE, and later spoke to ATG about the many issues that make fairs today a challenge. “When we went into Covid, I knew it would accelerate the demise of fairs,” he said, noting that, as lockdown hit, dealers jumped online and some converted their entire businesses. “So we are left with a void, not enough people to stand at the fairs to make them work, costs for venues are rising astronomically for organisers.”
But he is among those hinting that there is news in store for the Birmingham venue: “I am hoping and aware of a couple of interested parties and hopefully something may come of it, both perfectly capable of running it properly – so fingers crossed.”
Master Drawings New York
Guy Peppiatt Fine Art sold more than a dozen drawings at Master Drawings New York including three to museums.
This black chalk drawing, 1753, of figures by a lake in an Italian landscape by Richard Wilson was among the sales. Offered for $20,000, it had been in the same family since the 18th century and sold to a US private collector.
The event ran from January 20-28, hosting 25 dealers in galleries around New York City. Among other notable sales was a portrait medallion by Joseph Chinard of Revolutionary General François Amédée Doppet (1753-99), which went from Stuart Lochhead Sculpture to a private collector, and three museum sales plus others to private clients from Stephen Ongpin Fine Art.
London Art Fair
Walter Sickert’s The Painter and His Model was among the strong sales reported from Modern art specialists at London Art Fair. The picture sold for around £75,000 from the stand of Christopher Kingzett, which also parted with Portrait of Henry Geldzahler by David Hockney for a price in the region of £30,000.
Running from January 18-22 at the Business Design Centre in Islington, this was the first edition of the fair to run without Covid restrictions since 2020 and hosted galleries from as far afield as Iceland and Poland.
Though the fair caters particularly to Contemporary art buyers, this staging generated strong results for 20th century works. Goodman Fine Art sold Lynn Chadwick’s Conjunction XII. Another Modern British sculpture, this time by Henry Moore, went from the stand of Thomas Spencer Fine Art for about £40,000, while Zuleika Gallery found a new home for a Robert Adams work for roughly £10,000.
Other notable sales included a Keith Vaughan painting that went for a price of around £100,000 from Osborne Samuel Gallery. The Mayfair firm also sold works by John Craxton, Keith Vaughan, Elisabeth Frink, Peter Lanyon, Ivon Hitchens, Lynn Chadwick, Sean Henry, Brendan Burns and Melanie Comber.
Architectural Heritage parted with works by Peter Lazlo Peri and Dora Gordine.
Fairs: the bad news...
Over the last few years, various events have disappeared from the calendar, from the Works on Paper Fair which was shuttered after February 2018, to newer events such as Draw Art Fair, that last ran at the Saatchi in May 2020 and faded away during years of lockdown restrictions. However, a string of cancellations took place across the last few months.
October 2022: Organiser 2Covet postpones its new autumn edition of The Chelsea Antiques & Fine Art Fair when dates clash with The Winter Art & Antiques Fair Olympia. Shortly afterwards, 2Covet closes its events division, shelving both editions of the Chelsea fair, and returning ownership of the Petworth Park Antiques & Fine Art Fair to the Antiques Dealers Fair Limited.
November: Art & Antiques for Everyone at Birmingham’s NEC scraps all 2023 stagings two weeks after its last edition in November. IACF announces that it will cease staging its event at London’s Alexandra Palace.
December: The board of MCH Group decides to scrap the 2023 edition of Masterpiece London, announcing the decision the following month.
January 2023: Art & Antiques Olympia, founded in 1972, has its summer staging called off by organiser Clarion Events. The Spirit of Summer fair which ran alongside it is also shelved, though the Winter Art & Antiques Fair Olympia continues to run alongside Spirit of Christmas. The Antique Home and Vintage Fair, which ran three times per year in York, is called off by its organiser on January 1.
...and the good news
The Cambridge PBFA Book Fair returns for its first run in three years on February 17-18. The last event ran just before lockdown came into place. This month’s staging marks the 30th anniversary of fair managers Phil Salin and Sarah Key organising the event.
Connect Art Fair welcomes newcomers Quad Fine Art, Adrian Hill Gallery and Lime Tree Gallery for its next run on March 22-26 at Mall Galleries, London. Organisers say they are working hard to bring the fair back and have only a couple of spaces left to fill.
There will be a special exhibition of Gillray prints from the collection of the late dealer Andrew Edmunds, who died last year, at the next London Original Print Fair. Founded in 1985, the fair runs at Somerset House from March 30-April 2.
Asian Art in London, formerly an autumn-only event, launched a series of summer events on its 25th anniversary last year. It returns this year from June 28-July 1 featuring gallery exhibitions, a walking trail and other events.
The Cotswolds Antiques Dealers Association Fair has moved its run slightly later this year to a date yet to be announced.